20th January 2004

Grim message from BAA – a plague on all your houses

The Grim Reaper delivered a stark warning today (Tuesday 20 January) to home-owners whose lives would be made a misery if a second runway were to be built at Stansted Airport.

The visit by the messenger of doom highlighted continued uncertainty for thousands of homes as BAA prepared to announce the extended perimeter for an enlarged airport. Critics of airport expansion believe that BAA’s Airport Masterplan, due on or before 27 January, will do little to clarify the impact of the Government’s aviation White Paper that proposed a second runway for Stansted.

“BAA has given every indication that the message of its so-called masterplan will be ‘a plague on all your houses’. It may pinpoint which of the 100 local homes would have to be compulsorily purchased and then bulldozed if a second runway was ever allowed, but it would leave thousands of other home owners in limbo,” said Carol Barbone, Campaign Director of Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), which organised the stunt to draw attention to the plight of local residents.

“To focus solely on properties inside or very close to the new proposed boundary ignores the real impact that expansion would have on homes, shops and offices across the region. There would be hundreds, possibly thousands, of homes far enough away from a new boundary not to qualify for compulsory purchase or significant compensation, yet close enough for life to become a living hell with an expanded airport,” added Barbone.

“It wouldn’t just be hell from the skies but more concrete, noise and fumes from more roads and encroachment from urban sprawl. What would happen to the value of houses in that situation and who would want to buy them?”

The Reaper visited houses in Takeley and Duton Hill, typical of communities where uncertainty will continue for months until BAA answers the challenge from SSE to publish a detailed planning application.

Takeley, a built up community centered around the busy A120, is home to 2,700 people. Duton Hill, a small village near Thaxted, is a mix of older cottages and modern homes. Takeley and Duton Hill are at opposite ends of a swathe of unspoilt countryside where BAA has indicated a proposed second runway could be sited.

Each house visited was left with a ‘calling card’ in the form of a cross above the front door, reminiscent of the condemned sign used during the London plague.

“The effect of airport expansion would be like a plague striking down some people immediately, but then spreading insidiously across the whole area. Understandably, people would be left wondering if they were next,” said Barbone. “In this case, prevention is very definitely better than cure and that is why we will fight with every breath to defeat these expansion proposals.”

The Barry family, who live in Abbey View, Duton Hill, are deeply upset at the threat hanging over them. “Our view would be obliterated and our environment destroyed by noise and pollution a frightening prospect when you are bringing up young children,” said Stephanie Barry. “We could end up in a Catch 22 situation, close to a second runway but not close enough to quality for compulsory purchase. We would be in a public safety zone with a one in 100,000 chance of a plane crashing on us. With the volume of air traffic predicted, the odds of a major accident happening would be frightening.”

Tricia Ross, whose house fronts on to the A120 at Takeley, said: “The destruction of three entire communities by a bigger airport would be bad enough but the real tragedy is that life for thousands of families like ours would be made intolerable with the noise and pollution from a second runway, not to mention the misery that five times as much airport-related traffic would cause. We have no confidence that we will learn our fate for months.”

It is already clear from BAA that compensation and offers to buy threatened homes beyond the proposed new perimeter will apply to only a small number of the12,000 families targeted by BAA in a pre-Christmas direct mail campaign in areas such as Takeley, the Hallingbury’s, Broxted, Birchanger, Henham, Elsenham, the Eastons and the Hadhams.

“It won’t go unnoticed that the Government’s aviation White Paper urges airport operators to arrange fresh-air trips to the countryside for children, and says schools may have to have ‘quiet rooms’ so children can recover from the trauma of aircraft noise,” said Barbone. “Will they offer homeowners ‘quiet gardens’ for summer enjoyment too?”

NOTES

(i) Indications are that residents who suffer 69 decibels of aircraft noise or more, and experience an increase of 3 decibels over their existing level, could receive a compulsory purchase offer, although there is no guarantee. Despite the fact that a proposed second runway in the position indicated in BAA’s notice to residents has existed since 1983, nothing will be confirmed until a planning application is made and that is months away. Meanwhile, noise and pollution levels could build as use of the existing runway expands towards its permitted limit of 25 million passengers annually.

(ii) Around 44,000 people across the region would be affected by airport noise alone (based on the standards applied by the World Health Organisation), without taking traffic noise into account. Noise in a rural environment is more evident than in towns so would be far more noticeable across great swathes of Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk – under the flight path as well as near major roads.

(iii) The implications for children’s education and community health particularly the elderly and chronically sick as a result of noise and air pollution cannot be ignored.

(iv) The revised Airport Masterplan will be used by BAA in the development of its planning application for an additional runway at Stansted. Planning permission could only be granted, however, if significant hurdles could be overcome a requirement spelled out very clearly in the White Paper. These relate to noise, environment and road and rail access issues, to name but a few.

(v) BAA will also need to prove that its proposals for expansion are commercially viable an area where Stansted is particularly vulnerable, by its own admission. Heathrow-based airlines are unwilling to fund development and the subsidy of its competitors at Stansted through higher charges at Heathrow, while the budget airlines at Stansted (Ryanair and EasyJet) refuse to pay higher charges at Stansted for the ‘gold plated’ runway, retail malls and car parks that BAA is expected to propose.

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport